How Larry Palmer, the US Ambassador nominee for Venezuela got rolled?

During the December 20 Daily Press Brief, State Department Spokesman, PJ Crowley talked about Venezuela’s withdrawal of its agrément on the appointment of Larry Palmer to Caracas. Diplomatic courtesy requires that before the US (or any other state) appoints a new chief of diplomatic mission to represent it in another state, it must be first ascertained whether the proposed appointee is acceptable to the receiving state. In this case, Venezuela.  The acquiescence of the Venuzuela is signified by its granting its agrément to the appointment. It is unusual for an agrément to be refused or withdrawn, but as we can see now, it does happens.

So — in short, the Venezuelan government was for Palmer before it was against Palmer. Here is the official word from the press shop:

This morning in Caracas, our acting Chargé Darnall Steuart met this morning with Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro. At the meeting, the foreign minister presented her with a Diplomatic Note formally withdrawing the agreement of Larry Palmer to be the Ambassador to Venezuela. We regret this action taken by the Venezuelan Government, and it will bear responsibility for that action. We believe that precisely because there are tensions in the relationship, it was important to maintain diplomatic communications at the highest level. President Obama nominated Larry Palmer to serve as Ambassador to Venezuela because he has a unique combination of experience, skill, and wisdom to successfully represent our nation in Caracas, and we have never wavered in that view.

AP reported three days ago that in a televised speech Chavez chuckled as he addressed Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, saying Palmer must be stopped if he attempts to fly into Caracas’ international airport, in nearby Maiquetia.  “If he arrives at Maiquetia, grab him, Nicolas, grab him,” Chavez said. “Give Mr. Palmer a coffee from me, and then ‘bye-bye.’ He cannot, he cannot enter this country.”

Well, since Hugo the Gladiator is now set to rule his country by decree in the next 18 months (at the special request of flood victims, of course), we wonder if his Foreign Minister also has arrest powers that we know nothing about?

Larry Palmer’s nomination was reported out of the SFRC on December 14 and still needs the confirmation of the full Senate. What happens after he is confirmed now that Venezuela has officially withdrawn its agreement to his posting in Caracas is anybody’s guess. There will be consequences, yes? but what?

For more of this — read Liz Haper’s Venezuela’s Formal Rejection of Ambassador-Designate Larry Palmer | December 21, 2010:

The long-running debate over how to deal with the irrational and impulsive strongman, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, has reached feverish pitch this winter. The latest casualty in this war of words has become U.S. Ambassador Larry Palmer, the Obama administration’s nomination as ambassador to Venezuela. Worse yet, Chávez ultimately got what he wanted out of this latest battle: his choice of who will not be our next Ambassador in Venezuela. On Monday, Venezuela formally told the U.S. to not bother sending Larry Palmer as the next ambassador since he would be asked to return the moment he landed in Caracas.

How did this all go down?
To note, Palmer—true to his venerable professionalism as an American Foreign Service officer – takes all responsibility for the controversy that arose from the publication of the QFR.  But I must ask: should it really be a job requirement that an ambassador knows how “questions for the record” are handled?  Of course not.

So, what was the understanding between the legislative and executive branches?

It’s not clear whether some sought to use the QFR to strong arm the State Department to articulate or take tougher positions, and thereby bolster Palmer’s confirmation prospects and support on the heels of his “weak” hearing performance. Alternatively, perhaps the QFR was publicized to thwart his prospects entirely. Who knows; at this stage, it’s irrelevant.

What’s very relevant are the unfolding consequences of the QFR mishandling. First and foremost, Palmer got rolled. A dedicated Foreign Service officer was not treated with due professionalism and respect. We will not know how great he would have been in Venezuela. Second, the State Department on this matter appears naive, indecisive and disorganized. Third, critics who never wanted ANY ambassador—and certainly NOT Palmer—in Caracas, succeeded. As did Chávez, for the short term.

To take up the second point, the State Department appears to have different and confused messages on Venezuela. The ostensible example of this is the two messages of Larry Palmer’s Senate testimony versus his answers to the QFR. What can be said publicly and on the record regarding Venezuela?  Beyond talking with a low voice on the safest matters, it is not clear.  Is such timidity to Chávez’ bluster necessary?

The next step will be to see whether the State Department will go bold and call Venezuelan Ambassador to the U.S. Bernardo Alvarez a persona non grata, or take a softer approach and cancel his visa.

Read the whole thing here.